Sïonan Barrett responds to criticism over recent SGA spending

By Stuart Foster

Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian
(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

Recent spending by the Student Government Association on its Women’s Leadership Conference has sparked discussion over whether such expenses are necessary.

The SGA spent nearly $8,300 on breakfast and lunch meals for attendees of the conference, according to University of Massachusetts Auxiliary Enterprises invoices obtained by the Collegian. The spending was initially reported by The College Fix, and later picked up by the Tab UMass.

Both stories, which were written by UMass students, questioned the spending. But SGA president Sïonan Barrett responded to the concerns in an interview with the Daily Collegian, saying the stories were misrepresentative of the Conference’s expenses.

“We put on a very expensive conference for a very inexpensive cost,” she said.

The event was organized by the Women’s Caucus of the SGA, featured a keynote speaker and provided workshops on topics such as salary negotiation, the gender wage gap and leadership styles for women, and was held Sunday Nov. 15.

The SGA spent $3,152.40 on breakfast costs for the event, including a traditional continental breakfast which cost $8.95 per person, and a crepe station which cost $3.95 per person. The organization also spent $5,180.20 on a hot buffet lunch for attendees, which cost $21.95 per person.

Barrett said that the SGA was required to feed attendees because of the length of the seven-hour event. She also said they could not hire outside services for catering.

“If you put on an event on campus you have to get UMass catering,” the senior journalism major said. “It’s not the most cost-effective option.”

She said the SGA chose the least-expensive meal option available.

The SGA initially ordered food catering for 200 people, which was the amount of attendees registered for the event on its Campus Pulse page. Barrett said the SGA updated its catering request from 200 to 175 people “a few days” before the conference.

The invoices for the catering request, dated Nov. 13, listed food requests for 200 people. Barrett said just over 100 people attended the Conference.

She also noted the Conference’s only other expense besides catering was on the keynote speaker, Angela Lussier, who graduated from UMass. Barrett said the SGA negotiated the speaker price down from $7,500 to $4,000.

According to the College Fix’s Nicholas Pappas, who is also a columnist for the Daily Collegian, Barrett initially said the invoice figures were “off” by a few thousand dollars. But when reached by phone Sunday, Barrett said she didn’t realize there was 18 percent service fee added to the charges, thus bringing the total catering expenses to $8,300.

Barrett added that she focused her responsibilities in organizing the Conference on marketing the event to alumni, and did not directly deal with ordering the food or managing the budget.

Both reports framed the SGA’s spending on food in comparison to recent tuition hikes and additional fee increases for UMass students in advance of the 2015 school year. The Tab questioned whether this was an appropriate amount to spend for this purpose.

Barrett said the catering budget was unanimously passed by the SGA’s Coordinating Council, which passes certain budgetary motions and consists of roughly 15 to 20 people, in August.

She added that these types of conference’s typically cost between $15,000 and $20,000. This year’s Women’s Leadership Conference cost roughly $12,300.

Barrett said she believes it was a “really good” conference.

“It’s not like people just came for the food and left,” she said.

Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster.